BEIRUT: A legislative session called for by Speaker Nabih Berri and scheduled for Wednesday is unlikely to convene again, as the dispute between him and former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora over its constitutionality drags out the country’s political standstill. Meanwhile, most of the members of Parliament’s secretariat and committees were re-elected during a short Parliament session early Tuesday.
Speaking to reporters, Siniora, who heads the Future parliamentary bloc of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, described his meeting with Berri in Parliament as “very good,” but said that his bloc would boycott Wednesday’s session for the same constitutional reasons.
Speaking to The Daily Star later Tuesday, Siniora detailed his discussion with Berri. Siniora’s bloc asked Berri to use Tuesday’s brief parliamentary session to draw up a new agenda.
“The speaker did not heed our call,” Siniora said. “But communication with Berri will continue, we agreed on other issues. This is life.”
Before Siniora announced his boycott, Berri had called for a two-day legislative session starting Wednesday to discuss an agenda of 45 items. The very same items were slated to be discussed at several sessions that failed to convene since July for lack of quorum.
MPs from the Future bloc, other March 14 lawmakers, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and MPs from Michel Aoun’s Change and Reform parliamentary bloc have all boycotted the sessions.
Mikati and March 14 lawmakers argue that under a caretaker government, Parliament can only discuss urgent issues. But Berri argues that Parliament can convene at any time to discuss any issues.
MPs from Aoun’s bloc have boycotted the session in protest against the exclusion from the agenda of draft laws presented by their party.
Caretaker Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil responded to Siniora saying claims that Wednesday’s session was unconstitutional were “baseless.”
“If this demand made by them [the Future Movement] is really constitutional, Speaker Nabih Berri [will meet it because he] strongly adheres to the Constitution and his political career has proven so,” said Khalil, who is also a political aide to Berri.
Lebanon’s Constitution, adopted in the 1989 Taif Accords, was approved by a Parliament convened when there was no Cabinet at all, Khalil said.
Asked whether Wednesday’s session would convene if a quorum were achieved despite the Future bloc’s boycott, Khalil said that Berri was eager to preserve the National Pact.
Siniora and Berri’s meeting focused on a way to end the political stalemate between the two blocs, a source close to Berri said. Mikati also attended the talks, and Berri held a meeting that lasted for over an hour with MPs Ibrahim Kanaan, Simon Abi Ramia, Alain Aoun and Ziad Aswad, all from Aoun’s bloc.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Kanaan said that the delegation briefed Berri on recommendations made by the bloc earlier this month to separate political alliances from legislative work.
“Our stance is clear and we call on everybody to make the utmost effort to allow legislative sessions to resume,” Kanaan said.
“We believe that the priorities of people, the country and the current situation require that Parliament convene and legislate so that we can confront all challenges.”
Kanaan circled the question of whether Aoun’s bloc would boycott Wednesday’s session, instead blaming Siniora for its expected failure.
“What former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said has already torpedoed the session ... but we say that the situation should not continue as such. Legislating under a caretaker government is allowed by the Constitution and this has happened before,” Kanaan said.
A source close to Berri expected that MPs from Aoun’s bloc would show up for Wednesday’s session.
Almost all committees’ members were re-elected Tuesday during the 15-minute parliamentary session.
Akkar MP Nidal Tohme, a member of Future, replaced Hadi Hobeish, from the same bloc, in Parliament’s Public Works, Transport, Energy and Water Committee.
Hobeish moved to Tohme’s old position in the Agriculture and Tourism Committee.
The same heads and rapporteurs of committees were re-elected. The five members of Parliament’s secretariat were all re-elected as well.
Shortly before the end of the session, Berri urged the Administration and Justice Committee to study draft electoral laws presented by blocs.
“I praise efforts of parliamentary committees that are holding meetings, particularly the Administration and Justice Committee and I call on it to allocate time to draft an electoral law because it is unacceptable that things continue as such [with no new electoral law passed],” Berri said.
Parliament extended its term for 17 months in May after rival blocs failed to agree on a new electoral law and politicians came under increasing pressure from a deteriorating security situation in the country.
“Maybe if we reach an agreement on a draft electoral law we will hold a session to pass it,” Berri added.